Lost: Via Domus Review - 07/04/2008

Lost: Via Domus has got the production values, fanbase, and writing talent to ensure that it should at least be a commercial success. But is the game of everyone's favourite (and implausibly good looking) survivors of doomed Oceanic Flight 815 actually any good?

Ubisoft, who have shelled out quite a bit to acquire the license for this lucrative title, have wisely opted to make the first Lost videogame an action adventure, as opposed to an all out shooter. For starters, there aren't as many of these sorts of puzzle solving exploration based titles around nowadays, which will have definitely helped drum up hype and fan interest. And then there is the small fact that there aren't many guns to go around on the island (thank you Sawyer), and not every character from the show (most of whom you will come across at some point) has experience using them. So if you were able to just go around killing The Others, you're not only going to piss off Jack (I'm a doctor damnit, not a counter-insurgent), but the game would fail to replicate the depth and narrative quality of the television show.

So the decision was made to carry over the episodic format of the series into the game, with an ongoing story that progresses each week as the characters try to piece together the mysteries of the island while dealing with demons from their past. Story telling devices used in the show (many of which have now become embedded in popular culture) have been retained, such as the "Previously on Lost" segment, the cold opening before the eerie title music, and the unhelpful dialogue of characters who are too shifty for their own good.

The graphics are superb, and portray the environments in the television series well.

The game is split into seven episodes, which are over far too quickly for my liking, but each one takes a good hour or so to complete, and there's plenty of secret stuff to collect. Ubisoft have tried to make the game as accessible to gamers who aren't fans of the show as possible, but to be honest, you'll have even less idea of what's going on if you haven't at least watched the first season. While there is a good balance gameplay wise between the casual (simple dialogue tree, context sensitive controls) and the hardcore (references to the canon of the series, sharp spikes in difficulty), Lost: Via Domus is one for the fans. It's unlikely to attract many gamers who haven't previously invested in the show, and there are better alternatives out there for those looking to satisfy their action adventure fix.

For starters, the use of invisible walls, no-go zones, and in certain sections, totally linear paths to prevent any proper exploration of the island is very disappointing. You'd think that granting players the freedom to discover the things that their favorite characters have already come across (the Black Rock, the Hatch, the Nigerian plane etc...) would have been first on the agenda. Each episode features a trek through the jungle to reach the objective of that episode, and this is the only section of the game that offers any kind of freedom. You'll get to dodge the unfathomable smoke monster and navigate past lookout posts occupied by The Others, and is representative of what the rest of the game should have been like. The high production values are most evident here, with the subtle use of music (composed by the talented Michael Giacchino) and strong visual effects used to help ratchet up the tension. This is closest Via Domus comes to feeling like a proper interactive episode of Lost, so it's a shame the rest of the game doesn't maintain this same level of quality.

There's a great atmosphere to the game, despite the linear design overall.

The other major gripe is with the quality of the voice work. Although the characters have all been faithfully recreated and look fantastic, Ubisoft only managed to secure a handful of the actor's voices, opting instead for a selection of dodgy impersonations. Characters like Jack and Kate sound pretty good, and Michael yelling "Walt!" on the beach is convincing, but Locke, Sawyer, Sayid, and especially Charlie sound nothing like Terry O' Quinn, Josh Holloway, Naveen Andrews and Dominic Monaghan respectively (and yes, in case it wasn't already apparent, I am a fan of the show).The visual quality of the game becomes a double edged sword, as having superb digital recreations of your favorite 815 passengers sounding nothing like their on screen counterparts makes the game feel cheap and unrealistic. What is even more unusual is that the protagonist, another crash survivor and new character Elliot, is fully voiced in cut scenes but only sometimes during gameplay. When chatting with one of the other survivors and you're selecting what you want to say, all you get are the responses. It represents yet another aspect of this game that detracts from the realism being strived for and, for a fan of the show is, an enormous letdown.

It was obviously a challenge for Ubisoft (and the show's producers) to create a brand new character and integrate him into the established story, but in this respect, the game is a success. The direction of the cut scenes, the interactivity of Elliot's flashbacks and his amnesia riddled circumstances on the island are all very in keeping with the style and mythology of the series. The graphics are outstanding right across the board, with the lush jungle environments, character models, and familiar locations from the show all rendered in exquisite detail. But what I cannot get past is the mediocre nature of much of the gameplay.

You may be able to impersonate the characters' voices better yourself.

The cave exploration sections, while visually stunning, can best be summed up by saying that you walk from A to B without falling into large black holes or being eaten by bats. It really is as absurd as it sounds, and the more you die the more you tire of its repetitive nature. The fuse mini games offer such an incredible leap in difficulty that they quickly become tiresome, and since no character from the show has ever had to face anything like it before, it seems odd that you would have to here. And then of course there's the voice acting, which is without doubt the biggest letdown of the entire game.

There are elements of Lost: Via Domus that work well and no-one can deny the strength of the visuals, but it says something when the cut scenes are more enjoyable than the game itself. One for the purists only, and even they will probably end up being disappointed with what Ubisoft have produced.

- Jon Titmuss



Ubisoft Montreal
PC - PS3 - 360